A leading expert on the MENA region, he has long studied as part of his research at the Arab and Muslim World Institute of Research and Studies (IREMAM) in Aix-en-Provence, following François Burgot for more than two decades. He continues to denounce the trend of the newly re-elected Turkish president and what he sees as an Islamophobic bias against him.
What does the re-election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as President of Turkey mean to you?
I refrain from commenting from the point of view of domestic politics, in which I do not expressly deny a stake, but which I think I am not sufficiently familiar with. In the Western scene, the re-election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has the value of first refuting the dominant “wishful thinking”. By wishing for his downfall, Westerners were somehow self-intoxicated. Politicians and the media tend to overestimate not only the weight of the opposition but also the reasons why its members should be part of it.
This very close political and media connection, with the mainstream media now closely tied to power in France, has caused a real stink. Despite the endless confusions of the dominant discourse about him, Erdogan’s victory apparently has several logical dimensions. I especially like this beautiful phrase, which reminds me that when he came to power, more or less, his country was exporting … hazelnuts and it now exports airplanes! Although his predecessors were not international in scope, Turkey’s regional and global reach actually experienced exponential growth during his first two terms. Finally, managing the Syrian crisis with Germany appears less self-interested than its neighbors in the region.
Some have come to the conclusion that political Islam still has a bright future. But Mr. Is Erdogan still an Islamist?
Although the media is of this opaque category, I fear that mentioning “political Islam” or “Islam” to define Erdogan will create more noise than light. Against the background of the frenzy of the question of “struggle against political Islam”, in France or in Europe, his alleged Islamism was certainly mobilized to blacken the image of the leader of the AKP. In my view, most seriously and rationally, Erdogan can be defined above all by his ability to mobilize the majority of the Turkish people for his own benefit rather than seeking to protect himself from the religious identity of the majority.
But above all, he is characterized by his ability – despite some recent concessions no doubt intended to facilitate his re-election – to stand up to the West on a whole series of essential regional issues. This earned him the support of the majority of his fellow citizens and made people forget his dictatorial role. In this regard, it is noteworthy how much the Turkish diaspora in Europe, that is, voters who live in direct contact with Western public opinion, have supported the re-election. Its leader was disliked by the Europeans.
In their campaign against Erdogan, the Western media tend to ignore some of the more troubling aspects of his main opponent Kemal Kilicadoglu’s campaign on Syrian refugees. What is your personal opinion about this speech?
My point is logically indicated by these facts which you have just recalled. Western attention to the issue of human rights has been particularly one-sided. This concern is certainly not entirely unfounded, as the reaction to the August 2016 coup has clearly flowed. But given the performance of all other regimes in this area, this old Western fascination with “double standards” is more clearly marked in the corner. A very specific focus on the rights of “some men” often obscures the old Islamophobia of the majority of French intellectuals, right and left.
To say nothing of the Tunisian president’s recent performances, the same French actors stubbornly maintain the country’s 60,000 political prisoners are so cynically contradictory. Legion of Honour”. Shades of Kilicadaroglu’s personality, evident between the two rounds, were systematically downplayed or glossed over. Tensions with the country’s Kurds – some but certainly not all – were often caricatured.
In fact, large Kurdish cities in the east of the country vote for Erdogan, who is seen as less “irreligious” than his opponents. However justified the nationalist expectations of Kurds abandoned by immigration across the Middle East, the PKK’s ways generate repressive reactions, including those in France that have had to contend with the Basque ETA.
What do you think these Turkish elections say about the current state of the world?
They are part of a continuum of mundane and highly effective “post-colonial” dynamics. Year after year, the realignment of the world sees the erosion of American and European leadership or strangulation in the region and, consequently, the dependence of local players. Thus we see both the assertion of the latter and the emergence of a less unitary world leadership.
The US is not entirely without it, but China is stunning itself. Beijing has taken its old ally Saudi Arabia from the US in the region. China has succeeded in spectacularly reshaping, with Turkey’s participation, the old cards of the dispute between Riyadh and Tehran. Russia is also asserting itself with known strengths and limitations. The world is changing! Not necessarily bad.